Produced by Vincent Segal
Recorded by Philippe Teissier Du Cros
At Studio Juillaguet, Angoulême,
15th-20th february 2014
Mixed by Philippe Tessier Du Cros
At Boxson Studio, Paris, 9th-12th, April 2014
Mastered by Raphael Jonin
At Studio J Raph I.N.G, Paris on June 5th 2014
Artwork : Dialiba Konate
Design : Element-S
Liner notes : Helene Lee
Lyrics translation : Violet Diallo & Boubacar Keita
Kassé Mady Diabaté has been recognised as one of West Africa’s finest singers for almost half a century. A descendant of a highly distinguished griot family from the heart of the 13th century Manden Empire, his name in Mali is considered ‘musical royalty’, alongside other griot legends Toumani Diabaté and Bassekou Kouyaté.
More commonly known for their role as ‘keepers of tradition’, the griots, or jelis, are also known as arbitrators when there is any rivalry or struggle within their community. Their role is to channel all of the emotions and impulses of such struggles into song. So in a world dominated by an oral tradition, it is these poets and musicians who mediate for social order. It explains how an artist such as Kassé Mady Diabaté, who transcribes all the nuances of the human soul into song, can rise to such a degree of excellence and has become a national treasure in Mali.
Kassé Mady was born in 1949 in the village Kéla, some five miles from Kangaba, ‘the town where all is spirit’ and the place that is considered to be the cradle of the Mandinka civilisation. He was trained by his paternal aunt Sira Mory Diabaté, the foremost Mandinka singer of her day and still a reference for Malian musicians today. His reputation grew from Kéla during the early years of independence, and in 1970 he was invited to become the lead singer of Super Mandé, the dance orchestra of Kangaba, Thanks to Kassé Mady’s remarkable singing, they were winners at the 1973 Biennale, a government-sponsored festival that was part of the Cultural Authenticity initiative across the newly independent West African states, which was encouraging musicians to return to their own folkloric heritage.
Around the same time Las Maravillas de Mali was formed by a group of musicians who had studied music in Cuba and returned to Mali. Las Maravillas de Mali was famous for its charanga interpretations of Cuban classics, but the dictates of Cultural Authenticity were putting pressure on them to incorporate a Malian repertoire. Kassé Mady’s performance at the Biennale convinced the group to recruit him as their singer. After various ritual consultations with the family, who were very protective of their traditions, Kassé Mady was allowed to go to join the band in Bamako. With the young Kassé Mady at the helm, the Maravillas achieved huge success throughout West Africa with songs sung in a Cuban style, but with a new Mande touch.
Around 1976 the band renamed themselves National Badema du Mali (meaning national family of Mali). Kassé Mady launched this new formation with several profoundly Mande songs that were to become hits, such as 'Sindiya (later re-recorded by Ali Farka Touré as 'Singya' on his first World Circuit album) and 'Fodé,' which was also the title of Kassé Mady's first solo album in 1988. Other hits were 'Nama,' a song Kassé Mady composed about a true story of a long canoe that overturned while crossing the river Niger on September 22 in which many people drowned and 'Guedé,' which he later re-recorded with Taj Mahal.
In the 1980s Kassé was invited to Paris to record his first solo album for the Senegalese record producer Ibrahama Sylla. He decided to leave the National Badema and moved to Paris, where he spent the next ten years. During this period he recorded two solo albums, Fode, and Kéla Tradition, an acoustic album of Kela jeli songs. Also during this period he collaborated on the seminal album Songhai 2 with Spanish flamenco group Ketama and Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté, with stunning versions of classics such as ‘Mali Sajio’, as well as the beautiful ballad ‘Pozo del Deseo’, sung with Ketama singer Antonio Carmona.
Returning to Bamako in 1998, other collaborations with Toumani Diabaté followed; Kassé Mady was invited to take part on the acclaimed Kulanjan project with Taj Mahal, famously cited by Barack Obama as one of his favourite albums. In 2002 he recorded a beautiful acoustic album, Kassi Kassé, with producer Lucy Duran, which was accompanied by several European shows.
Kassé Mady’s major activity over the past ten years has been as star singer with Toumani Diabaté, first with the Symmetric Orchestra, and subsequently with the Afrocubism recording project on World Circuit and accompanying live shows. During this time his reputation as a master musician has grown, particularly among younger musicians.
Kassé’s next solo CD was Manden Djeli Kan, released on Universal France in 2009, when Kassé Mady took his opportunity to stand up as master of the Mandinka tradition, with contributions from other griot artists including Toumani Diabate. 4 and 5 star reviews followed – ‘the star is always the brilliant vocalist’, said The Times reviewer, while the 5 star review in the Financial Times, said simply ‘Time stops still’.
A griot to the core, Kassé Mady expresses himself almost entirely through his music. He is not especially at ease with the spoken word, and is known to all who come across him for his modest and peaceful character. But as soon as he sings, his delivery embodies the power of his message.